A report issued by the Book Trust last week claimed that 50% more mothers read to their children than fathers, and when you consider that according to the same report one in five students leave primary school with poor reading skills it’s time for parents of both genders to start picking up the slack a bit more.
The results of this Ipos Mori poll is quite surprising to me because the majority of dads I know through friendships or through work appear to be hands-on in every way, and very engaged with children’s literature. I see fathers in our local library as often as I see mothers, possibly.
But despite a societal shift from traditional parenting roles, most mothers are still picking up the lion’s share of the child care, which no doubt extends to carrying out the bedtime story. Plus, longer work hours may keep working dads away from the home at bedtime, and despite progress in most workplaces I think men find it more difficult than women to leave the office early for family duties.
Culturally, reading has always been perceived as more of a female activity. The proliferation of wine-fuelled book groups among women has helped prop up a general fiction market that is clearly directed at female readers, while also providing women with an outlet for friendship. Men more generally do their bonding at the sports ground or on the pitch.
I wonder too if dads can feel self-conscious reading aloud. I loved drama at school so I really enjoy doing this but there was just one boy in my Higher Drama class almost two decades ago, so an enthusiasm for getting into character and performing with words may not be something that’s shared by many men.
I really don’t think kids care whether or not you can transform your voice into different accents or not. You don’t have to be Leonardo DiCaprio; children just enjoy the time spent with you one-on-one with no distractions.
Maybe it doesn’t matter what the gender of the person reading with children is, or even what their relationship to the child is, as long as reading becomes a natural part of family life all the evidence points to reading progress in the classroom.
But, when you consider that girls are regularly reported to be streets ahead of boys in the literacy stakes, perhaps dads or other male role models can do more to make reading enjoyable and appealing. And perhaps that’s the crux of the issue – maybe the fathers who’re avoiding the bedtime stories have their own issues with books, and associate reading with a chore, something that they were made to do at school.
So I urge all dads, and mums, to get out to your local library or bookshop, or even on the ipad and browse on Amazon, and find some books that you’ll enjoy as much as they’ll enjoy and build it in to your quality time together. Fact-based books, fiction books, joke books, find something that will help you both look forward to that delightful ritual of bedtime reading, or at other times you spend together.
If you enjoy kicking a football around the park, seek out a football skills book and build it in. If your toddler has developed an annoying obsession for trains, find some railway-themed stories or picture books that will delight. Because by developing an enjoyment of books, you’re gifting your child a lifetime of access to the wider world. Plus, learning to read will seem less of a chore and more of a joy, and it’s probably the most important life skill we possess, so let’s not take it for granted.